Chicago Bulls head coach Billy Donovan threw his support behind Zach LaVine after the shooting guard let the Minnesota Timberwolves off lightly.

Facing his old team, LaVine was not at his sharpest and there were post-game suggestions he might be struggling physically.

LaVine, who joined Minnesota in the 2014 draft before moving to the Bulls three years later, managed just 12 points and six assists in almost 37 minutes on court.

Ultimately, it hardly mattered that he fell well short of his season's average of 24.6 points, as the Bulls pulled off a 134-122 win.

They are now 35-21 for the season and will tackle the Oklahoma City Thunder – Donovan's old team – on Saturday.

Coby White scored 22 points, Javonte Green bagged 23 and Nikola Vucevic's 26 points proved important as the Bulls were led by DeMar DeRozan's 35-point game.

It was a fifth successive 30-point game for DeRozan and Donovan saluted his "unbelievable" performance.

After quarters of 27-27, 33-32 and 32-32, the Bulls stretched clear in the fourth, which they took 42-31 to swat away the Timberwolves (29-27).

Asked afterwards about LaVine's condition, Donovan said: "I just think at this time of the year, I don't think anybody's feeling probably great.

"He's had to deal with his knee, he's had to deal with his back. It's a lot right now, and I'm sure he's not quite where he wants to be physically, but I give him a lot of credit, he's going out there and competing and playing and trying to do what he can do to help the team.

"We're going to have to work through this with him a little bit. He's trying to do everything he can to help us."

Donovan said the Bulls would "take his pulse – [see] how's he feeling, what's he going through, what's he experiencing" before finalising plans for Saturday's game.

"Zach's an elite scorer in this league and has been for quite some time," Donovan said, "but if he has a game like that you've got to try to generate good shots.

"It was great to see Javonte and Coby step up and have the offensive nights they had. DeMar's been doing it pretty consistently all year long.

"Zach tried to play the right way. I think the guys are trying to help each other and complement each other, and they're very, very unselfish based on who's going well and who's playing well."

Darius Garland and Fred VanVleet have both been selected to the NBA All-Star Game for the first time as Eastern Conference reserves.

After the 2022 captains and starters were announced a week earlier, the rest of the pool of players was filled out on Thursday.

Garland, having led the Cleveland Cavaliers into fifth place in the East, was a popular pick.

Charles Barkley said on TNT: "I like it when they earn it. They don't just get the fan vote, like a lifetime achievement award. This kid deserves to be at the All-Star Game."

Third-year point guard Garland becomes the first Cav to be recognised since LeBron James left the team, rewarded for averaging 19.8 points and 8.2 assists this season.

He is not the only new face, however, as VanVleet also made the cut in a career year. The 2019 champion is leading the Toronto Raptors in scoring with his 21.5 points.

Fellow pick in the East James Harden is far more familiar with this stage, included for a 10th consecutive season. Only James (18) is on a longer active streak.

Jimmy Butler, Zach LaVine, Khris Middleton and Jayson Tatum all also return.

LaMelo Ball, Miles Bridges, Tyler Herro and Jarrett Allen were among the players to narrowly miss out in a hugely talented Eastern Conference.

In the West, Chris Paul makes his 12th appearance, and Luka Doncic is also included.

Paul is joined by Phoenix Suns team-mate Devin Booker, while Draymond Green boosts the number of Golden State Warriors to three, alongside starters Stephen Curry and Andrew Wiggins.

Rudy Gobert, Donovan Mitchell and Karl-Anthony Towns complete the roster.

Injured Warriors forward Green, speaking in his role as a pundit, said he hoped the San Antonio Spurs' Dejounte Murray would be called up in his place.

Earlier on Thursday, the NBA unveiled new designs for the trophies to be handed out across All-Star Weekend – including the Kobe Bryant Trophy, awarded to the All-Star Game MVP.

The Chicago Bulls have received good news with All-Star guard Zach LaVine not expected to miss significant time after an MRI showed no structural damage to his left knee.

LaVine had limped out of the Bulls' 138-96 loss to the Golden State Warriors on Friday and underwent an MRI on Saturday morning.

The Bulls confirmed that LaVine will be re-evaluated early next week but that the MRI was positive albeit they were unable to provide a timeline on his return to play.

"Obviously very optimistic and very grateful that it wasn't something more," Bulls coach Billy Donovan said.

"That's why they wanted to do the MRI, so he'll continue to get therapy and we'll re-evaluate him after a period of time. I don't think it's something that's long-term, which is a good thing.

"The biggest thing is how does he respond to therapy, treatment, those kinds of things. I think once they see how he responds to the therapy there will be a clearer view of when a return date will be possible."

LaVine is averaging 24.9 points, 4.8 rebounds and 4.2 assists while shooting 49 percent from the field across 38 games this season for the Eastern Conference-leading Bulls.

Chicago Bulls' All-Star Zach LaVine will undergo an MRI on his left knee after limping out of the side's 138-96 loss to the Golden State Warriors.

LaVine left the court early on Friday with the Bulls suffering their worst loss of the season in his absence, days after a disappointing defeat to the Brooklyn Nets.

The Bulls are top of the Eastern Conference with a 27-13 record with LaVine averaging 25.6 points, 4.9 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game.

Bulls head Billy Donovan refused to be drawn on the extent of the injury but conceded the 26-year-old will miss Saturday's game against the Boston Celtics.

"I don't want to sit there and speculate that they've got more concern or not," Donovan told reporters after the game.

"I think they're just looking at it, he came down a bit funny. He's got some discomfort right now and they want to take a look. He didn’t feel like he could return."

He added: "I just don’t know until he gets an MRI. That's all it is right now. We leave tonight to go to Boston and he won't be going with us. We'll know a bit more detail tomorrow."

LaVine suffered a torn ACL in his left knee in 2017 playing for the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Giannis Antetokounmpo registered a seventh successive 30-point game against the Brooklyn Nets as he propelled the Milwaukee Bucks to victory.

In the first meeting between these teams at the Barclays Center since last season's overtime win for the Bucks in the playoffs, Antetokounmpo stole the show on his return from a one-game illness absence.

Milwaukee lost to the Toronto Raptors without their talisman, a second straight defeat after a shock reverse to the Detroit Pistons, but the reigning NBA champions snapped that mini losing streak in style with a 121-109 triumph on Friday.

Antetokounmpo had 31 points, seven rebounds and nine assists. He went into the game having recorded 30 or more points and at least 10 rebounds in each of his previous six appearances against Brooklyn, including postseason meetings.

The Bucks were without several key players, including Jrue Holiday, and coach Mike Budenholzer due to COVID-19 health and safety protocols, but they just had too much in the form of Antetokounmpo, who was ably supported by Bobby Portis, who had a double-double of 25 points and 12 rebounds.

The Nets has snapped a three-game losing streak on Wednesday by beating the Indiana Pacers, with Kyrie Irving returning.

However, Irving was not available for this home game, as he cannot play in New York state due to not being vaccinated against COVID-19.

Kevin Durant scored 29 points and James Harden added 16, but the Bucks had too much as they moved onto 26-15 for the season, though the Nets remain ahead of Milwaukee in second place in the Eastern Conference.

LaVine leads the way as Bulls roll on

The Chicago Bulls top the East and their winning run was extended to nine games thanks to a 130-122 defeat of the Washington Wizards.

Zach LaVine had a game-leading 27 points, as the Bulls ended a run of three games in which they had won by five points or fewer.

The Bulls have now matched their longest winning streak since 2010-11, when Chicago won nine in a row to finish the regular season.

James and Jokic rampant

LeBron James led the Los Angeles Lakers to their first four-game winning run of the season as he scored 32 points against the Atlanta Hawks, adding eight rebounds and nine assists in a convincing 132-118 victory.

The Lakers are now 21-19 and sixth in the Western Conference, a place ahead of the Denver Nuggets, who had reigning NBA MVP Nikola Jokic reach 20 points for a seventh straight game in a 121-111 win over the Sacramento Kings.

The Golden State Warriors stormed home with a strong final quarter led by Stephen Curry to halt the Utah Jazz's winning run with a 123-116 victory on Saturday.

The Warriors fought back from a 16-point deficit in the third quarter with a 37-25 final period, going 13 of 18 from the field.

Curry finished the game with 28 points including six three-pointers with six rebounds and nine assists, while Andrew Wiggins contributed with 25 points.

Donovan Mitchell scored 20 points with nine assists, Rudy Gobert had 20 points and 19 rebounds while Bojan Bogdanovic netted 20 points including four triples for the Jazz who had won six in a row.

The result improves the Warriors to 28-7 while the Jazz are 26-10 in the Western Conference.

 

DeRozan does it again

DeMar DeRozan became the first player to hit a game-winning buzzer beater in successive games since 1997-98 as the Chicago Bulls won 120-119 over the Washington Wizards. DeRozan finished with 28 points, nine rebounds and five assists, while Zach LaVine had 35 points for the Bulls. Bradley Beal had 27 points and 17 assists for the Wizards.

Giannis Antetokounmpo started the year with a triple-double as the Milwaukee Bucks claimed their sixth straight win, beating the New Orleans Pelicans 136-113. Antetokounmpo scored 35 points with 16 rebounds and 10 assists.

Nikola Jokic scored 34 points with 11 rebounds and Facundo Campazzo delivered 22 points and 12 assists as the Denver Nuggets won 124-111 over the Houston Rockets.

 

Nets beaten as stars shooting off

The Brooklyn Nets stars were back together but they were humbled by the depleted Los Angeles Clippers 120-116. Kevin Durant shot 11 of 24 from the field for his 28 points while James Harden went nine of 22 from the field. Harden did have 34 points with 12 rebounds and 13 assists.

Ja Morant's 41 points overshadowed LeBron James as the Memphis Grizzlies won 104-99 to inflict a sixth defeat in seven games for the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday.

Morant was excellent for the Grizzlies, draining six of seven three-pointers in his 41-point haul along with 10 rebounds and two assists.

James, who turns 38 on Friday, tried his best for the slumping Lakers with 37 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists, while Russell Westbrook had another triple-double with 16 points, 10 rebounds and 12 assists.

But the four-time MVP came up short in the final 30 seconds, missing a three-point attempt to tie the game before an aimless pass turned the ball over.

Morant skilfully tipped in two to make it 102-97 with 1:15 to go and scored 25 of his 41 points in the second half.

Booker stars as Suns silence Thunder

Devin Booker landed six triples in his 38-point haul as the Phoenix Suns defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder 115-97 to improve to a 27-7, putting them joint-top with the Golden State Warriors. Along with his 38 points, Booker also had seven rebounds and five assists.

The Chicago Bulls had a full team performance in their 131-117 victory over the Atlanta Hawks, with contributions from Zach LaVine (25 points), Coby White (17 points, 12 assists), Nikola Vucevic (16 points, 20 rebounds) and DeMar DeRozan (20 points, eight assists).

Rudy Gobert starred with 22 points and 14 rebounds as the Utah Jazz recorded their eighth straight road win, beating the depleted Portland Trail Blazers 120-105 despite Damian Lillard's 32 points.

Brown struggles from beyond the arc

Jaylen Brown has been in top form lately but hit one of 13 from beyond the arc as the Boston Celtics went down 91-82 to the Los Angeles Clippers.

James Harden scored 39 points in his second game since coming out of the NBA's COVID-19 protocols to inspire the Brooklyn Nets past the Los Angeles Clippers 124-108.

Harden returned with 36 points and a triple-double in the Nets' 122-155 win over the Los Angeles Lakers on Christmas Day and backed that up against the depleted Clippers, who were without star duo Paul George (elbow) and Kawhi Leonard (ACL).

The 2018 NBA MVP was in a dominant mood, with Kevin Durant absent in protocols, shooting 15 of 25 from the field and providing 15 assists, as well as having eight rebounds and two steals.

Patty Mills and Nicolas Claxton both contributed 18 points for the Nets, while the latter had three blocks. Marcus Morris Sr was the Clippers' best with 24 points, five rebounds and six assists.

 

Bulls duo combine for Hawks defeat

Trae Young returned from COVID protocols with 29 points and nine assists but it was not enough as the Atlanta Hawks lost 130-118 to the Chicago Bulls who had Zach LaVine (30 points, four rebounds, nine assists) and DeMar DeRozan (35 points, five rebounds, 10 assists) impress. LaVine and DeRozan became the first team-mates each with 20 points and five assists in a half over the last 25 seasons.

Ja Morant drained a last-gasp clutch shot to earn the Memphis Grizzlies a thrilling 114-113 win over the Phoenix Suns, who were missing center Deandre Ayton and head coach Monty Williams after entering protocols. Desmond Bane had a career-high 32 points and Morant finished with 33, grabbing the win after Devin Booker (30 points) had put the Suns ahead with five seconds left with a three-pointer.

The Utah Jazz extended their win streak to four games, even without injured Donovan Mitchell, as they defeated the San Antonio Spurs 110-104 with Jordan Clarkson (23 points, eight rebounds, five assists) starring off the bench.

 

In-form Celtic misses the mark

Jaylen Brown has been in hot point-scoring form lately but his shooting was down at 33.3 percent as the Boston Celtics – without Jayson Tatum who has entered COVID protocols - lost 108-103 to the Minnesota Timberwolves. Brown scored 26 points but made only two of eight from beyond the arc.

The Philadelphia 76ers moved above .500 as Joel Embiid scored 36 points with 13 rebounds in a 117-96 win over the Washington Wizards on Sunday.

The 76ers center was the dominant player on court, but also involved in a spat with Montrezl Harrell, which saw the latter ejected after a second technical foul in the third quarter.

Embiid had good support from Tobias Harris (23 points, seven rebounds, three assists) and Seth Curry (11 points with three triples, five rebounds, nine assists).

The Wizards had held a six-point quarter-time lead but the 76ers responded with excellent second and third periods, totalling 67-41 to take control of the game.


Jokic double-double leads Nugs past Clippers

Reigning MVP Nikola Jokic led the Denver Nuggets past the Los Angeles Clippers 103-100 in a thriller with the Serbian center finishing with 26 points, 22 rebounds and eight assists. Youngster Brandon Boston Jr, who had 18 points, missed a three-point attempt on the buzzer to force over-time. Jokic becomes the first player to record 25 or more points, 20 or more rebounds and five or more assists in back-to-back games since Charles Barkley in 1988.

Veteran Kevin Love scored 22 points making six-of-nine from beyond the arc, with nine rebounds from 18 minutes on court as the Cleveland Cavaliers thrashed the Toronto Raptors 144-99 to improve to 20-13. The 45-point win was the Cavs' largest margin since 1991, when they had a franchise-best 68-point win over the Miami Heat.

Zach LaVine scored 32 points including five three-pointers while DeMar DeRozan added 24 points as the Chicago Bulls got past the Indiana Pacers 113-105.  

 

Morant still finding his feet

Ja Morant continues to adjust after returning from injury, shooting eight-of-18 from the field including zero-of-three from three-point range while having four turnovers in the Memphis Grizzlies' 127-102 win over the Sacramento Kings. Morant did finish with 18 points and nine assists.

All-Star guard Zach LaVine is the latest Chicago Bulls player to enter the NBA's health and safety protocols amid a COVID-19 outbreak within the team.

LaVine and team-mate Tony Brown Jr. entered the NBA's health and safety protocols on Sunday, bringing the Bulls' total to nine players since the start of December.

The pair follow DeMar DeRozan, Coby White, Javonte Green, Matt Thomas, Derrick Jones Jr., Ayo Dosunmu and Stanley Johnson in being sidelined.

Once players enter protocols, they must quarantine for 10 days or until they return two negative PCR tests within a 24-hour window.

The Bulls (17-10) are not in action again until Tuesday when they host the Detroit Pistons, where they may have only nine available players.

White and Green will have completed their mandatory isolation period by Tuesday and could be cleared to play.

Under NBA rules, a minimum of eight players are required for a team before postponing a game during an outbreak.

LaVine is enjoying an excellent season, averaging 26.0 points, 4.2 assists and a career-high 5.3 rebounds per game.

Stephen Curry had a wayward shooting game but moved closer to Ray Allen's all-time record as the Golden State Warriors were humbled 102-93 by the Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday.

Joel Embiid scored a game-high 26 points along with nine rebounds and four assists for the 76ers, who ended the game with a 41-20 run to improve their record to 15-12.

Curry, who started the game 10 triples away from Allen's all-time NBA record for most three-point attempts made, finished with 18 points including three triples.

As a result, two-time MVP Curry is seven three-pointers away from breaking Allen's mark of 2,973 career triples.

Curry drained two three-pointers late in the second quarter but did not add to his tally until the fourth quarter, shooting a disappointing three-of-14 from beyond the arc. The guard finished the game shooting 30 percent from the field.

 

Jokic stars but triple-double run ends

Reigning MVP Nikola Jokic's run of three straight triple-doubles ended but he still managed a double-double with 35 points and 17 rebounds in the Denver Nuggets' 127-112 win over the San Antonio Spurs.

Reggie Jackson hit a late two-pointer with 2.2 seconds left to lead the Los Angeles Clippers past the Orlando Magic 106-104, finishing the game with 25 points in Paul George's absence.

The Utah Jazz extended their winning streak to seven games as Donovan Mitchell had 28 points with Ruby Gobert grabbing another double-double with 20 points and 11 rebounds in their 123-98 win over the Washington Wizards.

 

Turnovers cost Bulls vs Heat

Point guard Lonzo Ball committed five turnovers and only managed 15 points as the Chicago Bulls lost 118-92 to the Miami Heat. Zach LaVine was also guilty of four turnovers, although he finished with 33 points including seven three-pointers.

The Eastern Conference clash between the Miami Heat and the Chicago Bulls on Saturday would have been a fascinating contest regardless, but as we are all learning to live with, matters have been complicated by COVID-19.

The Bulls have seen their options depleted, with several players entering the NBA's health and safety protocols in recent days, including star man DeMar DeRozan.

Coming off a loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers, Chicago will be determined to get back to winning ways in Miami, but it is unclear at this stage who will even be taking to the court for Billy Donovan's team.

The Bulls (17-9) are second in the Eastern Conference as they travel to Florida to face the fourth-placed Heat (15-11), but have seen DeRozan, Derrick Jones Jr, Coby White, Matt Thomas and Javonte Green all sidelined by the health and safety protocols.

The Bulls' form has been one of the stories of the season in the NBA, with those who delighted in the Netflix documentary 'The Last Dance' dreaming of a first championship for Chicago since 1998.

Miami have been impressing as well, though. Having disappointingly followed up their run to the NBA Finals in 2019-20 with a first round playoff exit in a whitewash 0-4 defeat to the Milwaukee Bucks last season, they appeared to be back to previous levels after winning six of their first seven games of this campaign.

That form has evened out in recent times, but with a home record of 7-4, including an impressive win against the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday, the Heat will be confident of taking advantage of a depleted Bulls team, who they beat only a couple of weeks ago in Chicago.

One key area could well be how often the Bulls get into the paint, with Miami highest in the league for field goal percentage allowed in the paint (59.9), while Chicago have the second lowest (52.1).

Expect a strong start from Chicago, who boast the second most points per game from starters in the league (82.5) compared to Miami who have fifth fewest (68.2), although things may well turn as the Heat have the fifth-highest average points from the bench (39.1) while the Bulls have the second fewest (26.4).

DeRozan would undoubtedly be a huge miss for the Bulls. The 32-year-old has found life a breeze in the Windy City, scoring at least 20 points in all but four of his 24 appearances so far, sitting fourth in the league for average points per game (26.4).

Another possible absentee in the game is former Bull Jimmy Butler, who is 16th in the league for average points per game (22.8) but has missed the last few outings for the Heat with a tailbone injury, while Bam Adebayo will definitely be out after requiring thumb surgery.

Caleb Martin posted career-highs in points (28) and triples (six) as the Heat beat the Bucks 113-104, and along with Kyle Lowry, P.J. Tucker and Tyler Herro, will be hoping to go big again and take advantage of the shorthanded Bulls.

PIVOTAL PERFORMERS

Chicago Bulls – Zach LaVine

If DeRozan is unable to play, the onus will fall on Zach LaVine and Lonzo Ball to carry the Bulls to victory in Miami, with LaVine in particular almost certainly required to post a big score.

That should not be too much of a problem for the top point scorer in the NBA right now (670) who has played all 26 games for the Bulls so far this season, only failing to score more than 20 points on three occasions.

The shooting guard is also third in the league for dunks on a fast break with 17, which could come in handy when up against one of the older rosters in the NBA. Miami has the third-oldest active roster (28 years and 291 days) compared to the tenth-youngest Chicago (25 years and 112 days).

Miami Heat – Tyler Herro

The man announced as the best dressed athlete at Sports Illustrated's SI Awards on Tuesday will be hoping to look as impressive on the court when the Bulls come to town.

Herro scored 20+ points in 12 of his first 17 games this season, but has managed it just twice in his last six outings, including only scoring nine in the win against the Bucks.

The 21-year-old in his third season is increasingly becoming the Heat's key player, averaging 20.8 points per game, the 23rd most in the league, and will hope to impress more than judges of his attire with a big showing on Saturday.

KEY BATTLE – Will Bulls be able to find their mid-range?

The topic of mid-range shots and their usefulness seems to divide basketball fans, but it is an area that the Bulls in particular like to utilise as the team with the third-highest field-goal percentage from mid-range this season (45.1), behind only the Brooklyn Nets (49.0) and Portland Trail Blazers (46.7).

However, the Heat tops the table for lowest percentage of field-goals allowed from mid-range (34.7).

With DeRozan – who has the most field-goals made from the elbow this season (79) – likely to be missing, it could be that Chicago has to adjust their method of attack in Miami.

HEAD-TO-HEAD

The Heat prevailed 107-104 when these two met in November, and have won five of the last six meetings between the teams.

Nikola Jokic's return proved the perfect tonic for the slumping Denver Nuggets after the reigning MVP helped snap a six-game slide in a 120-111 victory over the Miami Heat.

All eyes were on Jokic, who had missed four straight games because of a wrist injury amid Denver's worst six-game stretch since the 2014-15 season.

There was also plenty of interest as the Nuggets and Heat renewed hostilities for the first time since Jokic and Miami's Markieff Morris were involved in a dustup on November 8.

Jokic received a one-game ban after shoving Morris in the back as tempers flared – the Nuggets star reacting angrily after the Heat veteran came in with a hard foul, catching his opponent with a left elbow to the chest.

While the Heat were shorthanded in the absence of Morris – who has missed 11 consecutive games since the incident, Jimmy Butler and Tyler Herro, Miami fans let their feelings known, booing Jokic every time he touched the ball.

Jokic, with his two brothers behind the Denver bench, was not fussed as he posted 24 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists.

Double-doubles from Bam Adebayo (24 points and 13 rebounds) and Kyle Lowry (17 points and 14 assists) were not enough for the Heat.

 

Doncic matches Robertson

Luka Doncic had 25 points, 10 assists and 10 rebounds in the Dallas Mavericks' 114-96 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers. He tied Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson for the most triple-doubles (38) before turning 23. Mavericks star Doncic celebrates his 23rd birthday in February.

Lonzo Ball earned family bragging rights after the Chicago Bulls outlasted the Charlotte Hornets 133-119. Up against brother LaMelo and the Hornets, Lonzo's Balls prevailed thanks to Nikola Vucevic (30 points and 14 rebounds), DeMar DeRozan (28 points) and Zach LaVine (25 points). According to Stats Perform, Chicago are the first team to have a starting guard (LaVine), starting forward (DeRozan) and starting center (Vucevic) have 25-plus points, five-plus rebounds and five-plus assists in the same game since the Orlando Magic in January 1994. LaMelo Ball's 18 points and 13 assists were not enough for the Hornets.

Seth Curry put up 24 points on 10-of-13 shooting as the Philadelphia 76ers held on to beat the Magic 101-96 at home. The 76ers are riding a five-game winning streak against the Magic – their longest such streak against Orlando.

Jonas Valanciunas nailed seven of his three-point attempts as he torched the Los Angeles Clippers in a 39-point and 15-rebound performance, the New Orleans Pelicans triumphing 123-104.

 

Lillard struggles in Blazers loss

Much was said about All-Star Damian Lillard heading into the season amid question marks over his future with the Portland Trail Blazers. Had he outgrown the smalltown market? Well, his topsy-turvy campaign continued after scoring just 11 points on four-of-12 shooting from the floor in the 129-107 defeat at the Utah Jazz.

Rookie of the Year candidate Josh Giddey had a game to forget as fellow strugglers the Houston Rockets eased past the Oklahoma City Thunder 102-89. In 25 minutes, Giddey made only one of his nine shots from the field, missing his five three-point attempts for two points in total.

LeBron James returned from injury but could not prevent the Los Angeles Lakers from suffering their third straight defeat going down 130-108 to the Boston Celtics.

Jayson Tatum starred for the Celtics with 37 points, 11 rebounds and two assists, while Marcus Smart was excellent with 22 points, eight rebounds and six assists.

James had 23 points, six rebounds and two assists on his return from an abdominal strain, while Anthony Davis top scored for the Lakers with 31 points.

The four-time MVP showed no signs of injury in the first quarter, helping the Lakers to a strong start, combining with Davis for 22 points, which was their second most in an opening period in the past two seasons.

The Lakers held the lead at half-time but the Celtics hit back in the third quarter with an 8-0 run, opening up an 11-point lead at the final change after a 33-21 period.

The defeat means the 2020 NBA champions have lost seven of their past 10 games and slip to an 8-9 record, while the Celtics improve to 8-8.

 

Suns' hot streak continues

Chris Paul had 18 points and 14 assists as the Phoenix Suns secured their 11th straight win, triumphing 112-104 over the Dallas Mavericks, who were without Luka Doncic due to knee and ankle injuries.

Giannis Antetokounmpo had 21 points and 19 rebounds in the Milwaukee Bucks' 96-89 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder, as Khris Middleton passed Ray Allen for most three-pointers made in franchise history (1,052), hitting three triples in his 16 points.

The Golden State Warriors won without Stephen Curry (bruised hip) and Draymond Green (bruised thigh), with Jordan Poole stepping up with 32 points including four three-pointers in a 105-102 win over the Detroit Pistons.

James Harden shot seven of 25 from the field and had six turnovers but finished with 36 points,10 rebounds and eight assists in Kevin Durant's absence ot lead the Brooklyn Nets past the Orlando Magic 115-113.

Zach LaVine scored 36 points in the Chicago Bulls 114-108 win over the Denver Nuggets who were missing Nikola Jokic, while LaMelo Ball starred with 32 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists in the Charlotte Hornets' 121-118 victory against the Indiana Pacers.

 

Pelicans clip wayward George 

Paul George shot eight of 26 from the field as the Los Angeles Clippers went down to the New Orleans Pelicans 94-81.

Heading into the 2021-22 season, the Chicago Bulls were viewed as a team that could possibly contend for a play-in game, and maybe, just maybe even secure a postseason berth in the Eastern Conference.

Sure, no team compiled more losses over the previous four seasons than the Bulls' 199 defeats, but executive vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas had a busy offseason constructing a lineup that on paper looked like it had the pieces to compete in the East.  

The biggest questions on the onset of the season were how long it would take the new additions to build chemistry and how soon until they could become competitive.

The Bulls have quickly answered those questions.

Chicago have opened with six victories in their first seven games and are coming off two signature wins – Saturday's victory over the previously undefeated Utah Jazz and Monday's 19-point comeback on the road against the Boston Celtics.

Karnisovas began building what he hoped would be a playoff team at last season's trade deadline by adding two-time All-Star center Nikola Vucevic, but the Bulls ultimately stumbled down the stretch as Zach LaVine missed 11 games in April and May while in the league's health and safety protocols.

The roster overhaul continued in the offseason with the acquisition of four-time All-Star DeMar DeRozan and point guard Lonzo Ball in separate sign-and-trade deals, and now with multiple scoring options, an offense that moves the ball and an improved defense, the Bulls are a complete team. Their net rating of 9.6 trails only the Miami Heat and the Jazz – the league's only other 6-1 teams.

For the past few seasons, the Bulls' offense revolved around the play of LaVine. A first-time All-Star in 2020-21, LaVine accounted for 19.6 per cent of Chicago's scoring over the past three seasons – the eighth-highest percentage for any player with at least 4,000 points scored for a single team over that span.

He now has a running mate in DeRozan to help shoulder the burden, and the early returns have been fantastic.

With LaVine nursing a left thumb sprain on his non-shooting hand, DeRozan has stepped up offensively, producing back-to-back 30-point games against the Jazz and the Celtics.

His game compliments with the Bulls' offense, as he is able to score from mid-range while relying on his team-mates to knock down threes. DeRozan is shooting 54.1 per cent on 37 jumpers attempted between 10 and 15 feet, and his 21 field goals made from the elbow are the most in the league.

He played a big part in Chicago's frantic fourth-quarter comeback win over the Celtics, and he has been a huge contributor down the stretch in the first few weeks of the season.

His 50 fourth-quarter points trail only Giannis Antetokounmpo's 51 for the most in the league, and he has been clutch at the foul line in the final period, making 12 of 13 free throws. LaVine has been slightly better from the line in the fourth, making all but one of his 17 attempts.

Getting to the foul line has been a major point of emphasis this season under second-year Bulls coach Billy Donovan, and they have been succeeding.

After ranking last in the NBA in free throws attempted per game last season at 17.5 – the lowest mark in franchise history – Chicago are ninth this season at 21.6. That improvement of 4.1 free throws attempted per game is the largest increase in the league.

Cutting down on turnovers is another area the Bulls were looking to clean up after ranking 27th in the league last season at 15.1 per game, and again, they have seen the biggest improvement in the NBA. Averaging 2.2 fewer turnovers per game this season, Chicago rank third in the league at 12.9 per game and have the league's seventh-lowest turnover rate at 11.9 per cent.

 

LaVine has been one of the biggest factors in the team's improvement in protecting the ball, averaging 2.3 turnovers per game after averaging 3.4 or more in each of the previous three seasons.

For the second year in a row, LaVine leads the Bulls in assists, and while 4.9 per game does not sound all that special, it is the way that the team have been distributing the ball that has been encouraging.

With Ball averaging 4.4 assists, Vucevic averaging 4.3 assists and DeRozan at 4.0 per game, the Bulls and the Indiana Pacers are the only two teams to have at least four players averaging at least 4.0 assists.

The Bulls' biggest acquisitions of this calendar year – DeRozan, Ball and Vucevic – are extremely versatile, with each averaging better than 12.0 points, 5.0 rebounds and 4.0 assists. They are the only team to have three players each reaching those numbers this season, and the Bulls have not had a trio of players with those stats since 1994-95, when Hall of Famers Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Toni Kukoc did it.

While Ball and Vucevic are finding roles in a balanced offense, the two of them along with another offseason acquisition have helped shore up a defense that was not all that formidable a year.

Hours after the signing of Ball, the Bulls also added free agent Alex Caruso. While the Caruso signing did not grab as many headlines as the additions of Ball and DeRozan, the former champion with the Los Angeles Lakers is also making an immediate impact.

Caruso's 18 steals lead all bench players this season, and his average of 4.52 steals per 48 minutes is the second-highest rate in the league behind only Paul George at 4.66 among the 142 players with at least 175 minutes.

While Caruso is hounding opposing ball-handers, Ball is frustrating opposing shooters, averaging 1.14 blocks – the second-best by a point guard behind the Sacramento Kings' Tyrese Haliburton at 1.29 per game.

Led by the offseason additions, Chicago's revamped disruptive defense is averaging 8.86 steals per game (up from 6.69 per game a year ago, when they were third-worst) and ranks fourth in blocks at 6.29 per game (an improvement from 4.22 per game in 2020-21, when they ranked 27th). It is also second in points per game off turnovers at 21.6 after ranking 26th last season with 14.5 per game.

Over the weekend, the Bulls put the rest of the league on notice that their defense should be taken seriously as they stymied the Jazz, holding them to season lows of 38.0 per cent shooting and 99 points – nearly 13 points fewer than their season average. That was one of three times already Chicago have limited their opponents to 40 per cent shooting or less after having four such games in a 72-game schedule last season.

It is obviously early, and the Bulls have a brutal schedule over the next two and a half weeks (their opponents' winning percentage of .609 through November 21 is the highest in the league), but Chicago have proven they have the makeup both offensively and defensively to compete with anyone.

While the narrative a few weeks ago for the Bulls was whether the team could make the playoffs, the franchise is now targeting much loftier goals.

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